Guinea-Bissau convicts 12 for smuggling record 1.8 tonnes of cocaine
BISSAU, April 3 (Reuters) - A court in Guinea-Bissau has convicted 12 people for cocaine smuggling following the seizure last year of 1.8 tonnes of the drug hidden in flour sacks, the largest haul in the West African nation's history.
The two believed to be the group's ringleaders are still on the run, but they were both sentenced in absentia to 16 years in prison for drug smuggling, money laundering and terrorism financing charges, the regional court said in a ruling published late on Thursday.
Ten others, who are in custody, received prison sentences of between four and 14 years. The group comprised citizens of Colombia, Guinea-Bissau and Portugal, the court said.
The former Portuguese colony on the Atlantic Coast has long been a major crossing point for Latin American cocaine bound for Europe. Police made an 800 kg haul in March 2019 before making the 1.8 tonne seizure last September. [nL5N25U3DW
Antonio Mazzitelli, the head of the regional United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime office, congratulated Guinea-Bissau for what he called a bold verdict.
"We salute this important step toward the consolidation of the rule of law," Mazzitelli said. "We stand ready to continue the UN support to Guinea Bissau."
Guinea-Bissau is home to only 1.8 million people and covers just 10,800 square miles, but its plethora of remote islands and unpoliced mangrove creeks make it ideal territory for smugglers.
(Reporting by Alberto Dabo; Additional reporting by David Lewis; Writing by Juliette Jabkhiro; Editing by Gareth Jones)
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